They call themselves “Czech elves” – a group of Czech volunteers fighting against Russian trolls. They are not special agents. They are ordinary people -- teachers, doctors, students – who are trying to stop Russian propaganda and disinformation on the Czech-language Internet.
Current Time’s Footage Vs. Footage spoke with this group to learn more about their methods of operation within the Czech Republic, a country some consider “on the frontlines” of the cyber-combat between Russian trolls and European Union members.
Modeled after similar Baltic anti-troll groups, the elves track and analyze patterns and techniques of disinformation – particularly via chain emails –that are intended to disrupt the country’s membership in the EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. On their website, the volunteers describe themselves as resistance fighters akin to those who opposed the country’s 1938-1945 Nazi occupation or resisted communism.
That may sound dramatic, but the reason for their concern is plain.
In its 2017 annual report, the most recent year available, the Czech Security Information Service ranked Russian disinformation actions as a national-security threat that outstrips terrorism, organized crime, or extremist groups.
The report did not cite a specific event that led to this ranking, but, rather, emphasized an alleged, ongoing “hybrid strategy” – use of both Russian state resources and local actors -- to weaken support for NATO and the EU.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any state connection to the best known of the so-called Russian troll factories, the Internet Research Agency.